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What Does the Voice of the Learner Tell Us?

In a Panic

Panic I have a confession to make. I can spend a lot of time in panic mode. In most cases I manage to downgrade my panic to more of a low-level anxiety, but whenever I embark on new projects or know that something major is on the line, panic can be a close companion of mine.

My first inclination when I feel the panic rise is to stuff it back down, like an inappropriate relative who pops up at a gathering to say embarrassing things in front of the guests. I keep smiling and nodding and speaking over my panic, as though by pretending that it's not there, it will decide to go away. Sometimes it does. Usually, though, it's simply biding it's time, waiting for the moment when my attention is turned elsewhere.

Panic particularly likes to visit me at night. It waits until I'm asleep and then when the cat jumps on the bed and wakes me a little, or my husband elbows me in the side and I start to emerge from dreams, Panic is waiting there, ready to pounce.

Lately, instead of trying to send the panic away, I've been trying to make friends with it. I will say to myself, "Ah-this is a GOOD thing. When panic visits, this means I'm going outside of my comfort zone." Then I will try to talk to it, to learn more about where the panic is coming from. Is it because I haven't prepared enough for something? Or maybe it's because I'm allowing a project to evolve in a way that isn't going to work well and I need to revisit what I'm doing?

Sometimes the arrival of panic is merely a reminder that I'm a perfectionist and a control freak and that I need to let go of both of those aspects of my personality if I want something really great and creative to evolve. The clutch in my chest and the frisson of anxiety that courses through my body aren't really indicative of any problems with what I'm doing. Instead, they are remnants of self-doubt and worry that need to be dealt with firmly, as you would an unruly child who insists on interrupting the party.

I think we all deal with panic in its various guises and each of us has to find our own way. Panic seems particularly prone to arrive when we're learning new things or when the stakes seem really high (notice I say "seem"--our brains have a way of making everything seem "high-stake"). The challenge is to find ways to channel and use our anxiety.

How do you deal with panic? How do you use it for good in your life?

Photo via Phoney Nickle


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I do a series of deep breathing exercises, you have to use your diaphragm to really get it going. Shelf all thoughts, don't disregard them, and focus on what is causing the stress. If you are more focused, you can deal with it better.

I exercise to release pent up energy. I also remind myself that if I am not panicked a little than I am not extending myself enough and it is too routine. It makes me think of what I need to be doing to prepare enough.

Like you, Michele, I spend a fair bit of time in that state of anxiety--not wild-eyed panic, just that attention flicking mode where distraction over-rules focus. And it's usually my own fault, as most things that cause me to worry are the stuff of life that recurs: projects with deadlines.

Sometimes I mutter the Dory (Finding Nemo) tune: "just keep swimming, just keep swimming--that's what we do, we swim, swim, swim." Optimism and perspective: I will get through this.

I know all the 7 habits stuff, but I have yet to clean up my act. Worry, for me, is not so much "an unruly child who insists on interrupting the party" as an invited guest--I set the table for its arrival. I deal with the stress/anxiety/panic in my life by recognizing it as familiar; it's up to me to show it the door, and remember to not let it in in the first place.

Thank you for your honesty in your post, Michele.

I'm really touched by your post, Michele. I hadn't realized that you were dealing with this.

Yet you show so much courage! Maybe that's the definition of courage: doing what you need to do, in spite of it's obvious impossibility.

I think your own advice to yourself sounds like the best solution. Best wishes in befriending your demon.

Oh gosh, I thought I was the only one! Being a panicker in Minnesota (I'm from NY) makes me feel like a fish out of water sometimes.

My panic tends to set in when I have a finite amount of time to complete an exponentially growing list of tasks. (I'm usually ok with linear growth :) ) I wish I'd had a moment to read your post this morning so I would have been more intentional about how I handled the panic of yet another (huge) task to be done by next Thursday.

When I panic and don't have a moment to think about it, I tend to turn down additional tasks. I go into survival mode, which is beyond compromise. When I'm panicking I think, talk, and decide extremely quickly, which helps me be efficient... but can also make it look like I haven't really considered the request before saying no.

When I do have a moment to think about the fact that I'm panicking, panic turns into realizing the necessity to compromise. I'm able to ask questions about priorities, task details, time-frame, and how I can meet the request half-way. I can talk about what else is on my list and see what we can re-shuffle. I can get past the assumption that this one more task is going to sink me and start getting creative.


A thoughtful and soul revealing post. I experienced a rough patch back in 2000. Overwork and an abusive boss led to high levels of anxiety and panic attacks, particularly at night. Isnomnia set in and it became particularly severe. I eventually ended up in Singapore's Gleneagles Hospital after collapsing on the way to work. My body just gave up.

Let go of things that are not crucial Michele. No need to be a perfectionist. One of my bad habits was to overcommit. I have let go of that. I only assist where I know I can and will meet the requirement. I no longer aim to please everybody.

Develop a little mantra that reminds you of your achievements and good points. Repeat that to yourself. One thing I do is remind myself that the sun will continue to rise and set as it has always done and that anything that I am worrying about at the present will be history seven days hence.

Best wishes, John

Thank you everyone for your wonderful thoughts here. Although I always hesitate at first to write posts like this, I also find a lot of company and support when I do. I love to see how other people deal with these issues and to know that I'm not alone. This kind of thing always underscores for me the true value of blogging--that we're able to explore these different facets of ourselves and of the world and to gain some perspective through our interactions. Thank you so much for giving your support and sharing your own stories!

Michele I just wanted to say thanks. This was a really wonderful post. I think in a time where there is so much focus on impression management and creating the perfect digital identity/thumbprint - it's a real breath of fresh air to read posts like this.
Thanks for keeping it real

J :)

I handle panic by making everyone else around me panic. Then, it's normal. Remember the time I was way-way overdue with sending you a link to the wiki I promised? Oh, yeah. That's right now. You're welcome.

Working on a magazine, I can tell you that a lot of publications people are, at least to a certain extent, panic junkies. You'll see them at their best when they're up against a deadline. Unfortunately, that might work well for us on the editorial side of things, but it creates problems for others involved in the production process (our designers, our printer), so I think it's good for us to wean ourselves off of that kind of panic, or at least find a way to panic about "fake" deadlines earlier in the process rather than the end-of-production deadline ...

I love Jan's "just keep swimming" mantra. I may borrow it for myself!

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